After a fun filled five days in Macedonia we were off to Greece, throughout the trip we had all been watching the news with a fair degree of concern about the looming “Grexit” and the ongoing financial hardships for everyone in the country due to the long term insecurity of Greece within the Euro. Thankfully throughout our time in Greece there was no impact on us whatsoever, people were super friendly and happy to see us when other tourists had made the decision to go elsewhere. Whilst there were pretty serious riots in Athens the night before we arrived we never saw any signs of it thankfully.
On an unfortunate note Jess had been struck down by a pretty serious illness late on in Macedonia which meant she had to pretty much sit out 4 or 5 days of the trip. We were lucky that 25% of out tour group were doctors and a big thanks from both of us to Vicki, Trish and Peter for looking after Jess and helping her get through what was a very rough couple of days.
Our first stop in Greece was Ioannina, one of the largest towns in North-West Greece, it is situated in the mountains and on the bed of a giant lake. It is a sleepy town during the day but it really fires up at night with people all over the streets, great bars in every laneway, an open air cinema and live music.
We got in late in the afternoon and grabbed a quick bite for lunch and headed off on a boat to visit a small island on the lake known only as “The Island”, ironically the name of the reality TV show that has been the number one viewing choice in our downtime… The Island is famous because Ali Pasha (A rebel leader who joined the Ottoman empire before ultimately betraying them, being sold out by his wife and assassinated) unsuccessfully hid out here with his harem. There is a museum on the island showcasing a variety of artefacts such as his golden gun and opium pipe as well as the gap in the floorboards through which he was shot and killed. We had our first rain of the trip on the island and huddled in a cafe and knocked over some Gelato whilst we waited for the ferry.
After dinner, and on our leader Tomi’s recommendation, we went and tried our wits at The Mindtrap, a series of escape rooms in which you have to as a team work through a series of puzzles and clues to solve the room and escape within an hour. Luckily Jess was able to join us as this was great fun, we went in with a team of six: Vicki, Peter, Ewe, Fiona, Jess and myself and tackled on e of the medium rooms for our first attempt. The room was set in an asylum and the goal was to escape before our captors returned and performed horrific psychological experiments on us. There was a bit of a learning curve on our first attempt and we were not the slickest operators for the first half an hour, a key find of a magnet from Jess and some great work on the equations from Peter got us back in the hunt and with the clock counting down to thirty seconds we opened the final chest. After overthinking the code and trying to puzzle our way out Fiona got the door open with one second left on the clock making a desperate dive with the key card and getting us out safely.
Have a look here: http://www.themindtrap.com/en/ to get more of an idea of how it all works, I was a bit sceptical going in but it was great fun and everyone who went in thoroughly enjoyed it.
The next day we headed out to Vikos Gorge, The Guinness Book of Records, lists it as the worlds deepest Gorge, apparently there is some controversy about this… All I know is that at some points it was 1000m deep and once we passed the monastery and started hiking around the edge we were on a path a metre wide with no safety rails that plummeted into nothingness. It was an amazing experience edging around, found a couple of amazing things such as a gateway built into one of the wider points in the path. The pictures don’t do it justice, it was so vast and quite surreal to be standing looking down into the gorge and being able to see birds of prey circling in the air hundreds of metres below you. After pausing to take a photo of me hanging off the edge and stopping on the way home to check out one of the regions unique bridges we were back in the city for dinner and another crack at the Mindtrap. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikos_Gorge
This time we did the hardest room they had at Mindtrap, “The Time Machine”, we were a slick operation the second time out and breezed through the room an breakneck speed. We finished with almost ten minutes to spare and were so deeply in the zone that the game master had to come and tell us that we had completed the room successfully… We were still trying to solve puzzles that didn’t even exist. After our success Ewe, Fiona, Peter and I headed out for a couple of sneaky cocktails to celebrate, In Greece it seems that if you order a couple of rounds and show enough charm it is possible to get free food and potentially free rounds of drinks. Fiona excelled at this game and scored us our first round with a sultry “Do you live around here?” to our bar girl, a plate of ham and cheese mini toasties and some chips. At the next bar I’m pretty sure I won with a plate of pizza, toasties, chips and an almost free round of drinks and a lingering shoulder touch… from Dimitris.
Our next stop was Lefkas Island, unfortunately Jess was quite ill here so we barely left the room other than runs to the pharmacy or to grab some basic food. It seemed like a lovely place, the rest of the group were bicyclists for the afternoon on day one and hired a van and checked out the rest of the island including the stunning beaches. They spoke really highly of the place and maybe one day we will go back and check it out.
Our final stop on the tour was in Athens, unfortunately due to me misreading the itinerary and booking our Crete flights the next day we had less than 24 hours in Athens so couldn’t really fit it all in. On the upside Jess was starting to feel better and got a bit stronger and was able to check out the Parthenon and the Acropolis, the return of Jess was very welcome as people had missed her and we were all feeling terrible that she had missed out on so much. It also meant the return of her photography skills for the blog!
The Parthenon and the Acropolis are amazing, it is difficult to understand the scope and majesty of them unless you have visited them, it isn’t just the ancient ruins, but their commanding position overseeing all of Athens as well as all of the temples as well as the original Olympic Stadium that lay at their feet. There has been significant work undertaken to restore the structures, with all marble used coming from the same quarry where the original materials were mined thousands of years ago. This work is ongoing and it is exciting to see that such great care is being taken of the site to ensure that it can be preserved for years to come.
After checking out the Acropolis we had our last dinner with all of our Intrepid gang before we went our separate ways, some were continuing on to the Aegean Islands, some to Turkey and others heading home, it was also time to say goodbye to Tomi our leader who was so generous with his time and knowledge all the way through the trip.
We had an amazing dinner on a rooftop with a great view of the Acropolis, the food was remarkable for its quality and for the fact that Jess could eat for the first time in five days! After dinner we had a couple of drinks and then the tour was over. Going into the Intrepid tour I didn’t know what to expect, I had never done group travel before and was worried how we would go in a group for that long, especially when tackling five countries in fifteen days. Fortunately our group was amazing, everyone got along so well all the way through, we made great fun and would do it again in an instant. Couldn’t recommend Tomi and Intrepid highly enough and thank all of the members of our group who made it such an enjoyable and memorable experience!
Jess and I are currently in Crete, after our whirlwind tour of the Balkans we are enjoying a slower pace and plenty of time lounging by the beach as well as a few semi successful visits to the Minoan ruins. We will put together a post on our first week in a few days.
As always thanks for reading!!